Legislators override Bello on elections bill in stinging rebuke

Jun 4, 2020

A screen shot of the Monroe County Legislature video meeting. Legislature Clerk Jack Moffitt, left, and President Joe Carbone, right.
Credit CITY Newspaper

Monroe County legislators from both sides of the aisle voted Thursday to override a veto by County Executive Adam Bello, the first of his tenure, passing legislation to add six supervisory positions to the county Board of Elections.

Democrats, who make up a slim minority, joined Republicans in large enough numbers to deliver a stinging rebuke to Bello, who had argued that the new positions were unnecessary patronage jobs that were overly expensive given the county’s tenuous fiscal position.

Earlier in the day, Bello took the extraordinary step of delivering a recorded robo-call to constituents urging them to contact Legislature President Joe Carbone, a Republican from Irondequoit, and demand a stop to the override vote.

“This is the wrong way of running a county government and reeks of the patronage ways of the past,” Bello said.

Prior to the vote, the Legislature's clerk read for nearly three hours from emails sent to Carbone from 258 constituents opposing the override.

It did not work. The Legislature voted 20 to 9 to override during a marathon video conference meeting that lasted five hours and whose tone of debate between lawmakers vacillated between testy and nasty.

In a statement issued shortly after the meeting, Bello called the vote "a blatant disregard for the people we serve."

The legislation in question was a rare display of bipartisan unity in a body with a long history of partisanship. The leaders of both caucuses doubled down on their newfound harmony, taking turns chiding Bello during the meeting in which the dialogue at times turned testy.

"I want to applaud the county executive for a very effective robo-call campaign," Democratic Minority Leader Vincent Felder said facetiously before voting to override. "He certainly got people excited."

The bill authorizes the county to create two assistant deputy commissioner positions and supervisory roles that would oversee absentee voting, information services, and elections inspector training and recruitment.

The six openings are to be filled by three Democrats and three Republicans, according to a memo accompanying the legislation, which set aside $220,000 for salaries.

County Executive Adam Bello announced during a news conference Tuesday that he had vetoed bipartisan legislation to add six supervisory positions at the Board of Elections.
Credit Jeremy Moule/CITY

Bello estimated the positions would cost the county closer to $500,000 a year and would have been paid for through a so-called "chargeback" — a direct service charge to property owners on their next property tax bill.

Republican Majority Leader Stephen Brew took exception to Bello characterizing the legislation as requiring a tax increase, calling it a "politically-calculated move." He said the money for the positions would come out of a general fund.

"This is not a tax increase and any word to the contrary is an attempt to mislead taxpayers," Brew said. 

Legislator Josh Bauroth, one of 9 Democrats to vote against the override, called that argument "ludicrous."

"This is an increase in our fixed costs," Bauroth said.

Legislators who supported the measure said the positions were required to help handle the expected flood of absentee voting during the health crisis, particularly in the upcoming June 23 presidential and local primary elections.

"I believe you cannot put a price tag on the ability of the Board of Elections to operate," Felder said.

In vetoing the bill a day earlier, Bello said his administration had already shored up the board with 22 new seasonal employees — a number he put at three times the typical amount — who were to start next week.

But the co-commissioners of the board, Republican Lisa Nicolay and Democrat LaShana Boose, issued a joint statement urging an override.

They argued that the new positions were badly needed in light of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s order that every eligible voter in New York receive by mail an absentee ballot application.

The commissioners said they mailed more than 257,000 applications and expected a large response.

“(W)e concluded that our existing staffing model could not guarantee the secure completion of the governor’s mandate and Election Law requirements,” their statement read.

At one point in the meeting, Nicolay pleaded with legislators to override the veto, casting the staffing situation as desperate. She said there were 38 employees in the board, including six who are out on family and medical leaves.

"Please don't disguise  this as politically-motivated," Nicolay said. "This is a real need in the department to do the jobs LaShana and I have been assigned to do."

David Andreatta is CITY's editor. He can be reached at dandreatta@rochester-citynews.com.